I have a few comments regarding The Shack and the article by Rev. Steven Borst in the May Lutheran Witness.
Even though, as Pastor Borst says, the book has some good points, my concern is its vicious attacks on Orthodox theology and the anti-church and misleading messages the book portrays.
Many people may read this book and forget that it is fiction. If readers of The Shack are not grounded in their faith, they can easily become emotionally involved and cannot discern between truth and lies. The book conjures up many false misconceptions of who God is, what the Church is, and salvation. Even though it is a fictional work, written by someone who was sexually abused as a young man, people have discussed the book as God’s truth. It’s all about relationship over believing.
We, as Lutherans, have such a beautiful tradition of faith based on the Holy Scriptures, the absolute truth! Why would anyone want to waste their time with this confusing, heretical New Age version of the truth?
One thing I’ve noticed–when a so-called new Christian book comes down the pike, it seems that many in the church rush out to buy it (making authors like William Paul Young very rich); they are not concerned about the underlying message. As a church body, are we afraid to defend the truth because of popular sentiment? P.C. is the word.
According to Heb. 5:14, “Solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” There is a clear relationship between maturity and discernment.
I appreciate The Lutheran Witness using its pages to review and critique current books, as well as cultural issues and events. I think the article on The Shack was even-handed and mostly well-written. However, I think it fell short of recognizing real dangers when the conclusion was “a modern novel worthy of our consideration.”
How can a work of fiction, veiled as a real vision, with “substantial doctrinal problems” be “worthy” for those in Lutheran pews?
The dangerous reality is that too many read such popular “Christian” books and too few attend a pastor-led study on them! Its errors are too foundational for it to be treated casually as “worthy.” Where in the Scripture are we given permission to visualize or imagine the Holy Trinity in any way other than how Scripture itself describes? Why would we encourage our members to be entertained with the idea that the earthly Church of Christ is a corrupt, manmade institution, or that individuals who suffer under the effects of sin and doubt should seek enlightenment and peace in dreams and visions rather than in the Word itself?
I read and reviewed The Shack almost a year ago. The reason it has since grown into such a cultural phenomenon is precisely because it is only used as a topic of conversation, and its false teachings are not being properly exposed in light of Holy Scripture! I would no more call this book worthy of our consideration than The Da Vinci Code, the Book of Mormon, or the Koran.
Because this novel is being hailed as great among Christians, its false teachings must be addressed first and foremost. And those certainly outweigh any Bible teachings the author happened to get right. I would not say it’s a “worthy” read.
Rev. Matthew Vrudny
Peace/St. Paul Lutheran Church
Regarding the balanced article in your May issue, I read The Shack last year at the suggestion of our oldest grandchild. My initial reaction in reading this novel (in which the dialogue sections are ultimately even more important than the gripping story line) was and remains highly positive.
Reminiscent of Luther and the aged St. Paul’s words from prison in Phil. 1:18, I encourage any reader who honestly allows the author to tell his story not only to place the best possible construction on the book’s overall content but with the apostle to rejoice if only because, unlike so many “religious best sellers” of late, Christ is consistently glorified.
Young’s extremely human yet wholly divine Jesus may not sit well with modern-day Docetists who at times tend to regard our incarnate Brother-Savior Lord as being almost embarrassingly overly human (e.g., would the real Jesus drop a dish of food and then even laugh about His seeming clumsiness?).
In daring to describe as we all have the mystery of the blessed Trinity, Young excels in painting repeated verbal pictures of the extremely close-knit relationship within the individual persons of the Godhead, each of whom is lovingly and patiently dedicated to restoring pain-stricken sinners to a degree of wholeness capable of enabling even the most severely victimized among us in this vale of tears actually to do what we pray in the fifth petition of our Lord’s Prayer, namely, forgive as we have been forgiven by God.
Against wholly unfounded charges that the author is anti-church or a universalist (why would a universalist take such pains to make his case for writing such a Christian apologetic in the first place?), Young writes in an often understated yet clearly scriptural manner capable of reaching the hearts and lives of those who seldom if ever darken a church door or engage in formal worship. For this alone we should thank God and wish the author even greater success.
However disturbing parts of the book may be to some, no one should be afraid to read The Shack. Although Young (wisely, I believe) avoids certain important theological topics found in seminary textbooks and does not indicate any biblical chapter or verse basis for what he does include in his novel, dozens of references can be adduced as evidence for how scriptural the book really is (e.g., Luke 15, where God is not only described as a caring, perhaps socially inferior shepherd but also as a frantic woman diligently seeking and ultimately finding a lost coin, or our Lord’s words in an easily overlooked “I AM” in John 10:30: “I am one with the Father!”–the latter indicative of the common redemptive purpose within the distinct persons of the Godhead.)
Rev. Kenneth Ballas, Emeritus
I am very thankful that Rev. Borst spent hours discussing The Shack with his members and did not leave them without guidance (May Lutheran Witness). This is a healthy pastoral response to such a popular book.
However, I am very concerned that he has underestimated the negative impact this book will have on believers and unbelievers alike. In that regard I have four, admittedly lengthy, questions.
What percentage of the readers of The Shack will allow themselves to be guided in their understanding of it by faithful pastors who are trained to discern the heresies that are contained in the book and acknowledged by Rev. Borst?
What percentage of its readerswill put down the book believingthe following heresies? God goesby different names in different religionsbut is the same god (pp. 31and 181). The Bible is a means forthe “intelligentsia” of the church tomaintain control of people’s accessto God (p. 65). That God does notpunish sin (p. 119), nor does Hewant us to be sorry for it, nor doesHe want to forgive us for it (pp. 184and 206). God did not create theauthority of parents, government,and the Church for the sake of orderin the world; they are only meansfor people to maintain control ofothers (p. 179). The Scriptures arenot necessary because the HolySpirit prefers to speak directly tous (pp. 195 and 198). The primary function of Jesus is to demonstrate God’s willingness to interact with humans. His death and resurrection for our justification is not what is most important (entire book).
What would be the spiritual state of those who believe these heresies?
What percentage of its readers who end up in that state is acceptable in order for us to back this as a modern novel worthy of consideration?
Call me a hack if you will, but I would prefer to attack a book that, in my estimation, will lead the majority of its readers away from Jesus as the only means of salvation.
Rev. Terry Forke
I highly value Pastor Borst’s ability and initiative to share his timely insights. The subject of The Shack has also come up in conversation with people I have talked with. No one hesitated to elaborate on the many points they liked, but rarely could anyone identify the book’s doctrinal deviations. This reinforced the point that laypeople need the continual shepherding of their pastors to help cultivate discernment in matters of faith and practice. Readers of The Shack must be reminded that along with the profound metaphors it offers, virtually every theological heresy begins with a misconception of the nature of God, and The Shack is no exception.
Palos Verdes, Calif.
With regard to Pastor Borst’s review of The Shack, I think it’s worth noting that the most vehement theological criticisms (“hacking”) of The Shack have come from Reformed theologians and pastors. This is because several main tenets
of Calvinism are specifically targeted by Shack author William P. Young: election to damnation (p. 163); limited atonement (p. 192); irresistible grace (p. 225); finite human nature not being capable of the infinity of the godhead (p. 113); and a more recent and controversial Reformed teaching, “functional hierarchy” in the Trinitarian relationship between the Father and the Son (p. 122). On every one of these issues, Orthodox Lutheranism would likewise find biblical opposition to Calvinism. For this reason, and also on account of the ambiguity and poetic license we allow literature of this sort, I was inclined to minimize the remaining doctrinal problems or tensions in The Shack. Rather, I tried to show how the book could be and should be read within an orthodox understanding of the biblical truth. But however forcefully or gently we might offer constructive criticisms of Young’s doctrines, we should also receive and reflect upon the challenge he implies for our communities of faith: Will wounded sinners who come into our midst be welcomed and received with the kind of redemptive love exhibited by Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu? Will they find healing (sanctification) for their souls among us? If not, who would blame them for thinking we are just another human institution and not the Church?
Rev. Doyle Theimer
Thank you for the article by Rev. Steve Borst on William Young’s book, The Shack. The book was refreshing and brought about lots of conversation about our traditional view of the Trinity within my circle of friends. Rev. Borst’s take on the book was excellent and is indeed needed today in our Synod.
Hack The Shack? Read the book but would not recommend it. I would rather re-read the Book of Job.
Frank D. Herold
Lower Burrell, Pa.
I enjoyed the article by Rev. Steven Borst about The Shack, written by William P. Young. Our Sunday Morning Ladies Bible Study plans to tackle this book in the fall. Would it be possible to get a copy of Pastor Borst’s study guide?
Rev. Borst reports that the response to his story has been amazing, so much so that he is no longer able to keep up with requests to lead Bible studies about The Shack. As an alternative, he has created a study guide CD. For more information about the CD, or a copy, contact Borst at email@example.com. —Ed.
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